If you keep your door open, do your students know that this means that you’re available for a conversation?
Last summer, I spent several days in the field with a bunch of students. I wanted to catch up with them, talk about the rest of their summer and their plans for the fall semester, and whatnot. Classes had been running for well over a month, and I hadn’t really seen these students around. I bumped into one student in the hallway, and asked, “Hey, how are you? What’s up? How are the others?” And he told me, “I came by your office to talk, but you looked really busy on your computer.”
Then, he told me how the others had told him that they had passed by, but I was really busy typing and they didn’t want disturb me.
I have my desk situated so that my desk is at about a 100 degree angle from me when I’m looking at my computer — there’s enough hallway traffic that facing the door directly would be a huge distraction for me. Apparently, I’m missing a lot of students who come by to see me. I guess I look really engaged when typing and they can’t interrupt?
If I’m in my office alone, of course if I’m busy on the computer. That’s pretty much all I do whenever I’m alone in the office. But if my door is wide open, then a conversation with a student or colleague is a higher priority. Apparently, this isn’t well understood, so right after this happened, I made a sign for my door:
It might be an academic convention that an open door means that our door is open, but it doesn’t look like everybody is the same page on this. Being overt about this fact might help.
Soon enough, I caught up with the students.
There’s an unfortunate PhD Comics strip that portrays faculty as inaccessible to their students. (I’ve even seen this on the door of some faculty, while visiting other institutions.) Perhaps if we drop some of the sarcasm, it might help.
By the way, I’m back from two weeks of vacation, and it was spectacular. (I had a week with my spouse’s family in a cold and snowy place, and then we went to quiet places along the Central Coast of California. It was nice, and there were elephant seals).